Ending the war on terror
PRESIDENT Obama’s recent declaration that the war on terror is over will not change the hard realities that more than a decade of controversial policies and actions had created. Certainly the world has changed dramatically since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But after two long wars in the Middle East, which had cost hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, the world is less safe today than it was 13 years ago. The Middle East is in turmoil and the two countries that America destroyed in order to salvage are on the brink of collapse.
Moreover, Al-Qaeda, which the United States sought to dismantle in Afghanistan, is alive and well elsewhere and has stretched to other parts of the world. It has become an existential threat to many countries as extreme Salafist dogma spreads among Muslim youth who hate the West and seek to establish a strict Islamic state. The rise of radical Islamist doctrine cannot be separated from America’s war on terror and its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama may be right in believing that direct threat to America’s home security from Al-Qaeda and its affiliates has now subsided. But on the other hand radical Islamist movements are thriving in Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Tunisia and Nigeria, among others. Sooner or later America, and others, will be forced to confront these movements. Less than a week after Obama declared that the US will decrease the use of drones, unmanned planes launched attacks in Pakistan and Yemen.
What the US has failed to recognize until now is that its war on terror has radicalized millions of Arabs and Muslims around the world. It has triggered sectarian wars in Iraq and destabilized the region. Its use of drones has angered its allies as it claimed many innocent lives. And after spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan that country is still hostage to corruption, crime and poverty.
America’s perception in the Muslim world is not a favorable one. The war on terror has enhanced that negative image of the United States even among the moderates. It is difficult to forget what the US had done in Fallujah, Abu Ghraib and others. America’s war on terror has been tainted by episodes of torture, rape and the killing of innocent civilians. This is one side of the war that America refuses to acknowledge until today.
The radicalization of the Muslim world is a direct outcome of the war on terror. Jihadists are driven by their hate of America and the West. And 13 years later the spread of extreme dogma in the region is yet to subside. The occupation of Iraq has added a new dimension to religious zeal; sectarian tension. Today such tension is polarizing Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Syria has become a major flashpoint of Sunni-Shiite confrontation. Sunni radicals have infiltrated that country from Iraq and other countries. Today Jabhat Al-Nusra, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, is a main player in Syria, prompting Iran and Hezbollah to intervene on the side of the regime. The sectarian conflagration in Syria will have dire consequences on the entire region.
When President Obama took over in 2008 he delivered a peace message to the Muslim world from Turkey and Egypt. It was supposed to signal a reversal from eight years of policies under George W. Bush who had waged the war on terror. But that message soon disappeared. From Guantanamo to Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s continued to follow a policy that alienated its friends and pushed young Muslims toward extremism.
Even if Obama declares a unilateral end to the war on terror, he leaves the region battling with homegrown radical religious movements. Today these movements constitute a challenge to most countries in the region, including Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
Radical Salafist dogma will have to run its course in this turbulent region.
Dealing with it will require domestic and regional efforts. The phenomenon will linger on for years, but governments need to dig deep to address the complex factors behind the radicalization of young Muslims.
Perhaps what President Obama needed to do, in addition to ending this war, was to offer an apology for all the wrongdoings that took place over the past 13 years. America needs to alter its image dramatically in this part of the world. The apology will be a token gesture, but it will open a new page in relations with the Muslim world.
It should be followed by actions to redress the many injustices that plague the region. A major step would be to end decades of Palestinian suffering.
The Palestinian cause has become a rallying call for Jihadists. A just conclusion to the Palestinian cause will transform the entire region and change America’s standing.